After broad consultations with expert bodies and education stakeholders, Cabinet has decided that all public schools should take a break for the next four weeks, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday night.
This is consistent with the advice of the World Health Organization, which argues that the best and safest way to reopen schools is in the context of low community transmission.
He said more than 6,000 people had died of COVID-19, and 408,052 infections had been confirmed.
Ramaphosa was speaking during an address to the nation on Thursday night.
“This means that schools will be closed from 27 July and will re-open on 24 August,” said Ramaphosa.
There are, however, some exceptions.
Grade 12 learners and teachers will only take a one-week break, returning to school on 3 August while Grade 7 learners will take a two-week break, returning to school on 10 August.
“Specific arrangements will be made for different categories of special schools,” said Ramaphosa.
“As a result of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the current academic year will be extended beyond the end of 2020.”
Throughout this period, the National School Nutrition Programme will continue to operate so that all learners or their parents can collect food directly from schools.
Ramaphosa said the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga will provide details on the management of the remainder of the school year.
“We have taken a deliberately cautious approach to keep schools closed during a period when the country is expected to experience its greatest increase in infections,” he said.
“I am aware that this arrangement will disappoint many learners who want to be back at school and may cause inconvenience and difficulty for many families who need to make alternative childcare arrangements.”
Reacting to Ramaphosa’s address, DA interim leader John Steenhuisen said the party does not support the decision to close schools for four weeks.
“President Ramaphosa has bent the knee to all-powerful teachers’ unions, in particular SADTU, who do not have the best interests of learners at heart. This is not leadership. President Ramaphosa is behaving like a “spectator President”, taking instructions from whichever powerful interest group threatens him more,” said Steenhuisen.
“This decision is not supported by the best available evidence, it is not supported by education experts, and it is not supported by the virus data. The scientific evidence is that schools do not expose learners and staff to higher levels of risk than any other places.”
“Closing schools will have a devastating effect on children for years to come. It will make inequality in our society worse. The school year will be further disrupted and may be compromised altogether. Many learners will drop out and never return or will fall behind to the point that they can never catch up. School feeding schemes will be further compromised. Schools will be vandalized. As education is compromised, so poverty will go up, along with the suffering and loss of life that accompanies that. Let us be under no illusion: poverty kills.”
(Compiled by Inside Politics staff)